Bakery turns to RTS

05 January 2009

A bakery’s desire to automate its tin exchange sparked a partnership between RTS Flexible Systems and Excel that resulted in the construction of a completely new conveyor system.

The independent bakery in the UK originally contacted RTS Flexible Systems, solutions provider for food and consumer goods industries, to automate its tin exchange and storage systems. But when RTS visited the site, it was evident that its Crocus gantry system couldn't be accommodated within the space available and an alternative needed to be found.

RTS UK sales manager, Roy Fraser, begins: ‘Reducing or eliminating tin damage is a key requirement of modern plant bakeries and we have developed solutions based on robotics and the application of leading commercially available components, integrated with our own technology. For this customer application we devised an alternative solution to Crocus using floor conveyor systems and a conventional 6-axis arm robot, to perform the operation the gantry would normally perform.’

Whilst the production process itself is similar to home baking, the volumes - from 6,000 to 9,000 loaves per hour - are vastly different, so automated storage and retrieval of tin 'straps' (four bread tins welded together with a strap around them) is essential in today's high-volume bakeries.

Large numbers of these 'straps' are continuously circulating around the bakery producing specific types of loaves, and at some stage the bakery schedule will require a change from making, for example, white sandwich bread to making wholemeal batch bread. The tins that are circulating therefore need to be removed and a different type of tin introduced - a change-over that could be required two or three times a day. At the time, the customer was conducting these changeovers manually.

The systems developed by RTS carry out the operation in parallel, taking one set of tins off-line and putting another set on at the same time. The tins are replaced into, and retrieved from, a 'tin store', which holds all the different types of tin ready for the exchange.

Having devised the floor conveyor concept, RTS researched conveyor companies and talked to three or four before deciding on Excel Automation. As Roy Fraser explains, ‘Excel was selected because we were impressed with the conveyor systems supplied to its established customers in the automotive and other industries, and its management team showed a clearer understanding of the requirements of our project.’

Following the initial meeting RTS put together a proposal based on integrating Excel conveyor systems with an ABB 6-axis robot. Excel's applications engineering and sales teams both provided detailed input on the RTS user requirement specification for the conveyor system; and the result was an order from the customer for four tin storage systems, requiring six large floor conveyors.

Commenting on the relationship that developed between the two companies, Fraser says that besides integrating the conveyor and robotic systems, RTS and Excel also had to learn to work together.

Each of the six conveyor systems are 20 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and carry loads of up to 14 tonnes. A critical technical element of the design was the need to move a very heavy load distributed over the length of the conveyor, and position it very accurately.

Summing up, Fraser says that following this first floor conveyor installation, an enquiry was received from another independent bakery with a similar requirement for a tin storage system and RTS was again successful in winning the contract.

‘We went to Excel for the two conveyor systems required, and this time their performance was even better than on the first project, because we'd been through a learning curve and knew how we could work together.’

In total, ten conveyor systems of this type have been supplied since RTS began working with Excel on this application.

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